President Rodrigo Duterte called on all members of the Asia Pacific Economic Countries (APEC) for stronger cooperation to ensure universal coronavirus vaccine access and inclusive economic recovery.
As the President made the call on Friday night, officials of the Philippine government and AstraZeneca, a United Kingdom-based company developing a COVID-19 vaccine, discussed access for Filipinos to an affordable cure to the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, US biotech giant Pfizer and German partner BioNTech sought approval Friday to roll out their coronavirus vaccine early, a first step towards relief as surging infections prompt a return to shutdowns that traumatized nations and the global economy earlier this year.
The world is looking to scientists for salvation from the global pandemic. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said its vaccines committee would meet on December 10 to discuss the request for emergency use authorization.
The President, who made the call during the first-ever virtual APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, said all nations needed an immediate response to save lives, while citing that APEC would play an important role in the region’s post-pandemic recovery efforts and in achieving sustained and inclusive growth.
“We aim for a comprehensive recovery with no one left behind. This can only be done through deeper engagement with the international community, especially with close partners in the Pacific Rim region,” Duterte said.
“First, we have to ensure the unimpeded flow of medical supplies and technologies, especially COVID-19 vaccines. It is folly to assume that there can be pockets of safe havens in the face of a global pandemic,” Duterte said in his message.
‘Virus must be defeated’
“We have to defeat the virus everywhere, or no one is safe. To do this, we need to strengthen partnerships to make vaccines a global public good,” Duterte said.
“Several modalities are available. Aside from bilateral and multilateral cooperation, tripartite arrangements can be made between the government, private sector, and multilateral financial institutions,” Duterte said adding “There is no other way. Let us resolve to act decisively on universal vaccine access and maximize these mechanisms.”
“Second, information is key to effective response and mitigation efforts. We welcome Malaysia’s initiative to establish the COVID-Live online portal, precisely for sharing of best practices,” he said.
“Finally, we need to keep trade free, open, and fair. This is key to achieving sustained and inclusive economic recovery,” Duterte added.
The President, together with his APEC counterparts, endorsed the APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040 which commits the 21-member-economies to deepen regional economic integration, address income inequalities within and between countries, and enhance cooperation to face the disruptive impact of a new globalization, driven by digitalization and innovation.
Outside the Palace, UK Minister of State for Asia Nigel Adams met with Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Health Sec. Francisco Duque III, and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. along with AstraZeneca Philippines Country President Lotis Ramin on Friday.
Adams later tweeted: “It’s been a real privilege for me to visit the Philippines—the enthusiasm has been great. We’ve had some brilliant conversations including with Secretaries Locsin on foreign affairs and Duque on health workers, and facilitating discussions with AstraZeneca—a British company developing a vaccine,” he was quoted as saying in a tweet by the UK Embassy in Manila.
The British minister also said “it was crucial discussing with the Red Cross how UK money is being used to help people’s lives affected by typhoons” that have passed through the Philippines.
UK Ambassador Daniel Pruce described the visit of Adams as “packed” with discussions on a range of issues including “education, ASEAN, climate change, COVID-19 vaccines, humanitarian assistance and development policy.”
“The FDA recognizes that transparency and dialogue are critical for the public to have confidence in COVID-19 vaccines,” the organization’s head Stephen Hahn said in a statement.
“I want to assure the American people that the FDA’s process and evaluation of the data for a potential COVID-19 vaccine will be as open and transparent as possible.”
He said he could not predict how long the review would take, but the federal government said earlier the final green light would probably come in December.
Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla called the filing “a critical milestone in our journey to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine to the world.”
The BioNTech/Pfizer shot and another one being developed by the US firm Moderna have taken the lead in the global chase for a vaccine.
EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the European bloc could also approve both before the end of the year.
But the vexed and enormously complex question of how to expedite production and distribution means there will be no immediate reprieve.
And the latest wave of the pandemic is hitting many regions harder than the first that swept the globe after the virus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
Worldwide deaths are approaching 1.4 million and infections nearing 57 million—although the true numbers are unknown since countries have different reporting methods and many cases go undetected.
India’s infections have surpassed 9 million —second only to the United States—and some of its graveyards have been running out of room.
India’s coronavirus cases pass 9 million as Delhi struggles.
“Initially when the virus broke (out), I thought I’ll bury 100-200 people and it’ll be done. But the current situation is beyond my wildest thoughts,” New Delhi gravedigger Mohammed Shamim told AFP.
And Mexico became the fourth country to see its death toll breach 100,000.
“We’re at a point where we don’t see a clear phase of descent,” former Mexican health ministry official Malaquias Lopez told AFP.
Developing countries will face deeper challenges. The World Health Organization has called on G20 nations to help plug a $4.5-billion funding gap for a program to distribute vaccines globally, according to a letter seen by AFP.
And the unprecedented speed at which the vaccines are being developed has raised some alarm.
China’s Sinopharm revealed Friday that it has already given its experimental vaccine to nearly a million people.
But top US infectious disease official Anthony Fauci has sought to dispel concerns about the candidates from Pfizer and Moderna, saying the speed at which they were developed “did not compromise safety” but was a “reflection of the extraordinary scientific advances in these types of vaccines.”
The APEC meet held virtually this year due to the pandemic, brings together 21 economies accounting for approximately 60 percent of the global gross domestic product and about 47 percent of the world trade.
Its members are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam. With AFP